The second week of March

 Two weeks ago, we finished building an Eliot Coleman style high tunnel/ greenhouse, with two automatic vent openers. The frame was built of 20′ rebar rods sheathed in PVC pipe, with the ends buried in the ground.
We got a lot done this week.
In Lakewood, we planted seed lettuce, lentils, and peas in the greenhouse under row cover. The lettuces were various heat tolerant types. By planting them in the greenhouse, we will be able to select for the most heat tolerant plants to save seed from. Before we planted, we hauled all the old mulch and compost out of the greenhouse, since it might be harbouring slugs, and spread it around the trees. We also repaired the bridge over the irrigation ditch.

In Littleton, we planted Early Flat Dutch and Copenhagen Market cabbage, Waltham 29 broccoli, and a beet mix in flats in the greenhouse, under row cover. We used our standard potting mix, a blend of peat, compost, and perlite amended with lime, bone meal, azomite, and organic fertilizer.

We also cut up bushes to make a truck access, spaded the other half of the greenhouse beds, rebuilt the greenhouse doorway, and dug a ramp so that we can roll wheel barrows into the greenhouse.

A farmer kindly brought his tractor and chisel plow in to break up the vegetable garden area. So we now have 10,000 square feet of broken ground. (About a quarter of the whole field.) Since the weather is dry and hot, all the grass should be dead in a day or so. We will have to get to work quickly to take advantage of the open ground before weeds do. Part of the garden will probably be mulched in preparation for planting, part will be sown with a cover crop before tomatoes and squash are planted at the end of May, and some beds will be worked into a fine seedbed without mulch for planting cool weather, small seeded crops like lettuce.

New Littleton Site! Helping to feed the Carmelites!

The Saint Isidore Society has been allowed to use a new site; an acre field located near Gallup Street and Littleton Boulevard in Littleton CO. We will be growing enough produce for the nearby Carmelite convent, as well as for the participating members. We hope to eventually plant fruit trees and bushes, as well as a large vegetable garden.

Our site in Lakewood will be moving into its second year this spring. We will be continuing  our operations there as well as developing our new site in Littleton.

We have already erected the frame of a greenhouse on the new site, which should be ready for use in a week or so. It will be very much like our Lakewood greenhouse featured in earlier posts here: an Eliot Coleman style hoop house with a plastic cover.

If you want to participate, contact us and we will send you the exact location of the site.

Work day notes

I have fallen behind in posting updates about the progress on the farm. In the last few meetings we have: reorganized what is left of our brush piles after renting a chipper, turned our compost pile, laid out quite a few beds, planted some potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and peas, got rocks and concrete laid to outline some of the beds, moved some of the tomato transplants out to the greenhouse,  repaired two of the wheelbarrows, mowed parts of the field, done a lot of cleanup, set stakes to protect the new trees from pedestrians and vehicles, dug up some concrete, planted lemon balm around broken concrete in the irrigation ditch (to help stabilize it), continued work on the fencing, added a second automatic vent to our greenhouse, (with only one, the greenhouse overheated severely,) and continued the work of using up our many piles of mulch, leaves, and manure.
Our greenhouse survived the late snows earlier this week, and the tomato transplants inside are all safe. However, one of the heated frames at my house, which still held over two hundred tomato plants, malfunctioned, and we have lost over a hundred of them. Depending on what members want to do, we may buy replacements, or do without.
Then new vent opener is at the bottom of the greenhouse, on the opposite side from the existing one, to create a chimney effect.
To plant potatoes, we laid out cardboard, and built sheet mulch beds in the usual way. But we included potatoes in the bottom layers. As they grow, we will be adding more mulch, instead of trenching and hilling. We used some actual seed potatoes, (which are less likely to contain disease organisms that can kill or stunt the crop) but the price was too high, so most of them are just organic potatoes from the store. After much searching online, it seemed that most people can get away with doing this. Also, a disease can still show up in other ways, even with certified seed potatoes. A disease showing up is much less of a disaster for us then for a commercial farmer, who is depending on potatoes.

Notes from the Work day, Wednesday March 22nd

At this meeting, we planted cabbage, kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard in our greenhouse, under row cover material. We formed the sheet mulch bed into a sort of basin, to retain water and keep seeds from washing out. Hopefully we will be transplanting them into the main bed in mid april.

We also took down a lot of the old fencing and straightened out the posts, so that they would be ready to receive the new wire mesh we will be installing. We will be waiting to put up the new wire until we have finished removing some trees, so that falling limbs will not crush the fence.


Demolition of Shed and operation of Greenhouse; Notes from the Work Days March 20th and March 23rd

There was an old run in horse shed on the urban farm property. Due to age and improper construction, it was beginning to fall apart, and was, in any case, too small for our purposes. So we decided to pull it down, salvage what lumber we could, and build a new shed.

Here are some pictures of the project.

The shed as it was, a few months ago.


The walls starting to come down. We still have to remove all the stuff that had been stored in the shed over the years.


The roof collapses after being disconnected from  the back posts.


After this point, we used a vehicle to pull down the front posts which the roof was leaning on, dropping it to the ground. (Unfortunately, we did not get a picture of this step.)

At the next meeting (March 23rd) we broke up and cleared away the roof and other debris, and dug out the posts.

At these meetings we also eliminated poison hemlock from the areas where we will be working, and tidied up the property. Our greenhouse vent arm seems to be working well, and lettuce is growing inside. As you can see, there was still some snow on the ground from the most recent fall, but the temperatures inside the greenhouse were warm and steamy, triggering the vent’s arm to pop open. At the next meeting we hope to plant Brassicas and other cool weather crops in the greenhouse for transplanting to the main gardens in April.


notes from the work day March 12th

At this work day we removed and cut back cotton wood trees along the ditch and fence line. We want to get this done before our new fence is build. The fence project will start at the next meeting. We will use the sticks from the trees to make a large hugelkulture, and we will use sections of the trunks to stabilize a slope.

We discussed our fruit trees, which we will be ordering soon. And we found that it is difficult keeping surface planted seeds such as lettuce moist in the greenhouse, since we are not on the site every day to water. So we will be constructing self watering planters out of salvaged five gallon buckets, starting seeds in them, and then transplanting the seedlings into the beds. This way the surface layer drying out will not be quite such a concern.

Notes from the Meeting of February 19th, greenhouse versus 75 mph wind gusts

We had intended to plant in the greenhouse at this meeting. However, Lakewood, the town where the farm site is located, had winds gusting up to 75 miles per hour a few days before. The greenhouse was still standing, but the plastic had pulled out of the soil along one side. (Click here for a picture of the greenhouse.)

Fortunately, we had not relied on burying the plastic, but had also clipped the plastic to the end hoops. So it was all still there and undamaged. We spent about half the meeting reburying the plastic, deeper this time, and we rolled the edge of the plastic around heavier scrap metal pipe before burying it.

The inside of the greenhouse heats up nicely. In fact, it is too hot, so we have built a vent frame containing a mechanical venting arm. However, we have not yet attached it to the greenhouse.

We finished preparing the greenhouse sheet mulch, so we should be ready to plant at the next meeting.

Greenhouse Construction Phase Two/ Notes from the Meeting of December 18th

At this meeting we got our greenhouse much nearer to completion— the plastic cover is now in place. We pulled it over the frame, and then rolled the edges around some scrap metal pipes, which were buried in shallow trenches along the sides. This should help to keep the plastic in the ground. We then cut short sections of black plastic pipe, slit them down one side, and used them to clamp the plastic to the end hoops. (Here is a link on an earlier page, where it describes the first phase of the greenhouse construction. Greenhouse construction )

Here are some pictures of the greenhouse.




We still have to tighten the plastic a little, and put some duct tape under each clamp to stop them from abrading the cover. Then we have to modify and place a door, and attach it to the frame. We left the plastic cover loose at the west end, so that the door can be put into place. We will then attach the plastic tightly to the west end hoop. (Right now it is weighed down with landscape timbers.) We also have to frame a vent and attach an automatic vent opener, insulate the north, east, and west sides with bubble wrap, and pile a little more earth around the edges. After that, we can begin to instal hot frames and thermal mass.
The thermal mass will be large, black containers full of water. This will act as a sort of flywheel, absorbing the extremely high temperatures during the day, and releasing the extra heat at night to keep the greenhouse warm. Without any mass, the greenhouse would cook plants during the day, but rapidly freeze at night if the outside temperatures are much below thirty-two degrees.
The hot frames will be a second translucent structure inside the greenhouse. They will be sunk below ground level and insulated. Since they will only be exposed to the moderated conditions inside of the greenhouse, they will keep a fairly stable temperature. Extra heating will be provided inside the frames by means of compost and or electricity. For low cost electric backup heating, we could use an infrared bulb or a heat cable. These would be set to come on only if the temperature dropped dangerously. The hot frames will be used to start seedlings in the spring.
We also discussed remodeling the run in horse shed on the property to store tools and equipment, and our mason bee project. The shed remodel will probably be our next project.

Greenhouse construction, Phase one/ Notes from the meeting of December 3rd

At this meeting we got the frame of our Greenhouse put up. We bent inserted lengths of rebar into PVC pipe, and bent the rods into hoops, inserted about a foot into the ground. We then joined them at the top with another length of PVC/ rebar. The rebar provides the strength, and the PVC keeps the rebar from abrading the plastic cover. S30A0132

Due to the wind, which picked up towards the end of our meeting, we were unable to get the plastic cover attached. It would have been buried along the sides of the greenhouse. We also need to build a wooden frame at one end to contain a door and vent. Once we get this done, we will install an inner hot bed for starting seedlings, low tech insulation on the north side, mass to collect solar heat and even out temperature swings, and possibly a compost heating system. These systems will be backed up by an electric heater.

Notes from the meeting of November the 14th/ Greenhouse Design

The weather is still fairly pleasant, so we have continued working on our Lakewood Farm. At this meeting we continued turning our abundant supply of leaves into compost piles.

We also discussed plans for our greenhouse. It will be a simple hoop house, which has the advantages of low cost and ease of construction/removal. However, it will be less sturdy and harder to heat.

We will thread twenty foot lengths of rebar into pvc pipes, and bend the composite rods into hoops. These will be buried in the ground, and connected along the top by another rod. Then greenhouse film will be draped over the structure, and buried along the edges. Rope will be used to tie down the plastic and keep it from flapping in the wind.

Hopefully, we will be able to construct the greenhouse at the meeting after next. I will post pictures of the construction, and then record its performance. This is an Eliot Coleman style greenhouse, and part of it will be used for early plantings of cool weather crops. It will also house a hot bed for starting seedlings in the spring.  These will be for sale, for member’s gardens, and for our farm site.